British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Eric Cunningham
A Learning Experience
Opoku Ware Boys' Secondary School
It was late 1953, and the second year of my service as an Education Officer in the Gold Coast. I was one of a band of six officers who were the last to be appointed to pensionable service there. It was also the second year of internal self-government in the Gold Coast. This had come in February 1952, while the six of us were Cadet Education Officers pursuing the Post-Graduate Certificate of Education course at the University of London Institute of Education. Shortly before we sailed from Liverpool in August 1952 to take up our appointments a letter from the Colonial Office had told us that because of internal self-government we should expect changes in the Gold Coast, and that a new salary scale had been introduced, details of which would be given after arrival. There were also gubernatorial assurances that our careers as Colonial Service officers were in no way a cause for concern by us.

I had been posted to the District Education Office, Kumasi. Kumasi was the chief town of Ashanti, a traditional tribal kingdom with a famous reputation for its own authority and independence, and the education district was a large and busy one, with over 500 primary and middle schools. One of the first acts of internal self-government had been to promote fee-free primary education, as promised by the Accelerated Development Plan for Education. The District Education Officer was an experienced and highly regarded African, an ex-Government teacher promoted on merit. He was one of a select band who were in the vanguard of what was known as the Africanisation of the Civil Service, and the six of us, in our various postings, were among the first expatriates to have African superordinates. I found him fair, positive, hard working, and genuinely concerned that I should learn both fully and fast what the job of an Education Officer in his district involved. I had great respect for him.

Much of my work involved visiting schools throughout the district to make inspections and write reports, and assisting with the in-service training of a rapidly increasing number of African Assistant Education Officers. The expansion of primary schools required a rapidly increasing number of pupil teachers too, and the setting up of in-service short courses for them. One day I was asked to do something different: to attend the Board of Governors' meeting of the Methodist Girls Boarding School in Juaben, some twenty miles from Kumasi. I welcomed the change.

A Learning Experience
The meeting went well. The chairman of the Board of Governors was the Juabenhene, the Paramount Chief of the area. He was clear about what he wanted, and took us purposefully through the agenda. As the meeting closed the Juabenhene thanked us for attending, and in an expansive moment invited us all to visit him in his palace (his own description) for refreshments. It would have been grossly discourteous for me to decline his invitation, and besides I was curious, never before having visited a paramount chiefs abode. In due course we were all given chairs on the verandah, servants brought a bowl of water for washing hands, and refreshments were served: sweet biscuits and tepid beer, as was the local custom. As we ate and drank conversation became quite animated, but I could contribute little, so I listened and watched with interest.

Time passed, and the Juabenhene's expansiveness increased. He announced that he would have a photograph taken to mark the occasion; a messenger was despatched. During the wait more refreshments were served, and eventually the photographer arrived, his equipment a large glass-plate camera and tripod, and black velvet cloth. Chairs were arranged in a row, and we began to group around them. As a Government officer I was not a member of the Board of Governors, but merely in attendance, representing the Director of Education, and had been at the meeting only to provide, when appropriate, an official perspective and guidance on policy if required. I therefore stood behind the chair at the edge of the row, giving precedence to the school governors.

The Juabenhene eyed the group, and quickly commanded me to come and sit on the vacant chair beside him, in the middle of the row. I protested gently, saying that I was not formally on the Board of Governors but merely represented the Education Department. The Juabenhene would have none of this. "No, no," he said firmly. "You come and sit here. You are the only coloured man here!"

It was a salutary experience, never to be forgotten. Colour, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Colonial Map
Map of Gold Coast, 1954
Colony Profile
Gold Coast Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 93: April 2007


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